Newsflash: Mazda overweegt elektrificatie voor nieuwe MX-5

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+++ ALFA ROMEO , battling a 27 % U.S. sales decline this year, admitted to “shortcomings” in its U.S. product lineup and promised the 2020 model-year versions of the Giulia and Stelvio will begin to fix them. Bob Broderdorf, director of Alfa Romeo North America, told an audience of media and dealers at the Los Angeles auto show that the changes will give Alfa Romeo “the single most competitive offering we’ve ever had”. The focus on existing models follows word that the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ sportscar unit is scaling back. Under a product plan unveiled in June 2018, Alfa Romeo was supposed to have fielded 7 models before 2023, including 2 sports cars and a large SUV. That was adjusted by FCA boss Mike Manley on October 31, during the automaker’s third-quarter earnings call with analysts. “I fundamentally believe in the brand, but we must make sure that any investments that we make generate an appropriate return”, he said. Plans now call for Alfa Romeo to have 4 models: the Giulia, the Stelvio, a new compact SUV and a new small SUV. The Giulia and Stelvio will get a midcycle freshening in 2021, according to a chart shown to analysts. The compact SUV (previewed by the Tonale concept vehicle shown in Los Angeles and first unveiled in March at the Geneva auto show) will arrive in 2021 and the small SUV in 2022. Broderdorf said the changes reflect input from customers. “The vehicle should be quieter? We’ve added laminated glass throughout the vehicle”, he said. “On the Stelvio we used to have plastic cladding down below before, Why? It’s a premium vehicle; it shouldn’t be there! Let’s change it to body color and drive home the premium feel of the vehicle”. The product modifications for the 2020 model year are common to Alfa Romeo cars sold globally. The brand returned to the U.S. in 2014 after a 2-decade absence and peaked at 23.800 sales last year. Volume is now high enough to merit a ranking on J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study. This year, Alfa ranked 4th from the bottom, ahead of Mitsubishi, Land Rover and Jaguar. This year’s U.S. sales decline through September meant only 13,347 deliveries. Broderdorf said “the volume segments are the ones that matter, as much as I love the specialty cars” that were part of the 2018 product plan. “My core focus in the short term are products like Tonale”, he added. Asked if there was a chance Alfa Romeo would be pulled from the U.S. in light of the proposed merger of FCA with France’s PSA Group, Broderdorf said: “The plan for Alfa Romeo is rock solid, and we will continue to grow, one sale at a time, one consumer at a time”. +++ 

+++ BMW and its partner Great Wall Motor said they plan to build a plant in China with a capacity of 160,000 cars per year and which will produce electric MINI brand and Great Wall Motor models. The €650 million plant is due for completion in 2022. Automakers and suppliers are scrambling to meet tough new Chinese quotas for less polluting cars. Those rules call for electric and rechargeable hybrid vehicles to account for a fifth of total sales by 2025. The new joint venture Spotlight Automotive, will be based in Zhangjiagang near Shanghai and eventually employ 3,000 staff. Earlier this month, Great Wall gained domestic regulatory approval for the new plant. Great Wall is China’s top SUV and pick-up maker. It also builds Ora, an affordable battery electric vehicle brand in Baoding, the city where it is based. BMW is following the footsteps of larger peer Volkswagen, which is readying 2 Chinese factories to build electric cars next year, and which will have a combined production capacity of 600,000 vehicles. Tesla is aiming for more than 500,000 cars a year by building a new factory in Shanghai. +++ 

+++ The all-new mid-engine CHEVROLET Corvette C8 ’s impressive $59,995 starting price is only good for the first year, as we reported back in August, and unless it goes up by $20,000, Chevrolet will continue to lose money on low-trim cars, a senior GM source tells. We had a feeling the $59,995 starting price was too good to be true, and a GM source confirmed as much to us explaining the price would rise for the 2021 model year. This isn’t much of a surprise, as the base price of a C7 rose nearly $2,000 in its second year and by another $2,000 the following year. While we still don’t know how much the C8’s price will rise in 2021, a more senior GM official tells us it would have to go through the roof in order to cover GM’s cost. According to my source, the original budget for the C8 project assumed a starting price of $79,995. This is certainly reasonable considering the enormous amount of work needed to redesign the car into a mid-engine configuration, but it’s a huge jump from the C7. In order to keep customers from revolting, Chevrolet is taking it on the chin and willingly losing money on every C8 it sells for less than $80,000. No doubt a factor in the C8’s laundry list of options and dress-up parts is the hope buyers will load up their cars with extras and turn their $60,000 Stingrays into $80,000-plus Stingrays. The C8 Stingray Z71 3LT that was tested recently rang up at $88,305. More critical are the base prices of upcoming performance variants including Z06 and ZR1. According to my source, the sweet spot for profit and volume is between $80,000 and $100,000. Once the car crests 6 figures, my source says, sales volume drops off precipitously. This will be a trick for Chevrolet, because the C7 Z06 starts at $82,990, which doesn’t leave the company much room for an increase without upsetting customers and breaking out of the sweet spot in price and volume. The C7 ZR1, meanwhile, already starts at $135,090, so Chevrolet has more discretion to price the C8 ZR1 knowing full well it will be a low-volume car. +++ 

+++ CITROEN will add a full-electric version of the C4 Cactus successor when the compact hatchback is renewed next year, boss Linda Jackson said. The battery-powered variant of the C4 Cactus replacement will be Citroen’s first mass-market EV. Starting next year every new Citroen will have plug-in hybrid or full EV versions, depending on the platform, as well as gasoline versions, Jackson said. There will also be diesel versions for as long as there is enough demand for diesels, she said. “By 2025, 100 % of our range will have electrified versions”, Jackson told in an interview. Citroen’s electrification expansion will start with a plug-in version of the C5 Aircross that will go on sale next year. For the C4 Cactus replacement, Citroen will use an extended version of its CMP architecture, which can accommodate internal combustion and electric drivetrains. The platform underpins the Peugeot 208, the Opel Corsa, the DS 3 Crossback as well as the upcoming Peugeot 2008. PSA currently sells battery-electric versions of the 208, Corsa and DS 3 Crossback, along with versions with combustion engines. Jackson did not say when the C4 Cactus replacement will be unveiled or when production would start. Citroen expects the car’s electric version to be more successful than the brand’s C-Zero full-electric minicar, a version of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. C-Zero sales in Europe were just 929 in the first 10 months, according to JATO Dynamics market researchers. The C4 Cactus replacement will be a “very important launch for us”, Jackson said. Citroen sales have rebounded in Europe in the past 2 years with the introduction of the C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross as the brand shifted to SUVs and crossovers from its previous focus on MPVs after market demand shifted to vehicles with a high seating position. The brand’s European sales increased 6.4 % to 546,036 in the first 10 months, according to JATO data. However, demand for the aging C4 Cactus is falling. Its European sales were down 8 % to 45,966 in Europe through October. The model’s best sales year was 2015 when 79,000 were sold. The C4 Cactus was styled as a tough urban car when it was launched in 2014 with distinctive so-called “air bumps” in prominent bodyside positions.The plastic cladding was added to protect the body from minor collisions in congested cities and parking lots. The car was given softer, more sophisticated-looking design in a 2017 facelift. The C4 Cactus became Citroen’s main compact offering when the brand began to phase out the conventionally styled C4. Citroen has not said whether the C4 Cactus successor will keep Cactus as part of its name or be simply called the C4. The current C4 Cactus is based on PSA’s PF1 architecture, as is the current C3. PSA has 2 main new platforms: CMP for small cars and EMP2 for midsize vehicles. The platforms overlap in the compact segment. Jackson said a midsize sedan that will replace the now-discontinued C5 will appear at some point after the C4 Cactus replacement. The car will take as its inspiration the CXperience concept shown in 2016, she said. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER said it will cut at least 10,000 jobs worldwide over the next 3 years, following others in the industry as they cut costs to invest in electric vehicles while grappling with weakening sales. It marks the third announcement on cost cuts this week by a major German car company as automakers seek to fund huge investments into cleaner and self-driving technologies while demand in China, their biggest market, is falling and a trade war between Washington and Beijing is curbing economic growth. “The automotive industry is in the middle of the biggest transformation in its history”, Daimler said in a statement. Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, revealed the 3 % cut in its workforce after reaching an agreement on its plans with labor unions. They have agreed on a variety of measures to cut costs and jobs, including expanding part-time retirement and a severance program to be offered in Germany. The company is also cutting 10 % of worldwide management positions. Staff reductions would be in the low 5-digits, or at least 10.000 people, according to Wilfried Porth, a board member in charge of human resources. The company employed 304.680 staff at the end of the third quarter. Plans laid out by Daimler in November showed the company aimed to cut staff costs by around €1.4 billion by the end of 2022. The announcement comes days after Audi said it would cut up to 9.500 jobs or one in ten staff by 2025, freeing up billions of euros to fund its shift toward electric vehicle production. Also this week, BMW said that its management and labor had reached an agreement on measures to reduce bonus and other pay schemes for staff to cut costs. Daimler has repeatedly cut its profit outlook over recent months, partly to cover a regulatory crackdown on diesel emissions but also because of a slowing auto market. Group operating profit will be “significantly lower” than a year ago, the company said last month. Other measures to reduce staffing costs include offering shorter working weeks. Agreements in place to prevent forced redundancies in Germany until 2029 will remain in place, Daimler said. The workforce needs a clear strategy for the future, said Michael Brecht, chairman of Daimler’s works council. “A reduction in capacity must not be carried out on the backs of the employees”, he said. +++ 

+++ MAZDA bosses are deliberating on the next generation of its existing sports car, the MX-5, by considering how to improve the popular model while potentially using an electrified powertrain. Given its relatively low volume, the MX-5 might be one of the few cars that could avoid being electrified for its fifth generation but, either way, maintaining its light weight is crucial. R&D boss Ichiro Hirose said: “The lightweighting and compact size are essential elements of MX-5, so even if we apply electrification, we have to make sure it really helps to achieve the lightweighting of the vehicle”. Brand and design chief Ikuo Maeda flagged changing public opinions as a consideration on which powertrain to use. “The preference of people who enjoy driving sports cars might be changing, so we need to think about what direction society is going”, he said. “We want to look at the best powertrain to keep the vehicle lightweight, but because of the diversifying requirements and preference, we need to explore various options. I don’t have the answer now but we need to make a vehicle that people can own without worrying that they are not being eco-friendly”. The current MX-5 continues to enjoy healthy sales. Mazda describes the model “as an evergreen car that keeps one aspect of the brand alive”, also saying it has “an incredibly passionate following”. The spokesman added: “It wasn’t so long ago that MX-5 was as well known as Mazda overall. We’ve tried to infuse that MX-5-ness into all our cars”. +++ 

+++ German luxury carmaker Daimler could face further recalls related to manipulated diesel engines in some of its MERCEDES-BENZ compact car models. Germany’s transportation regulator KBA is currently investigating suspicious software used in some diesel engines which Daimler bought from another automaker, the report said, adding that “thousands” of cars could be affected. The carmaker declined to comment on the report, but said it had previously made clear that, due to the emissions cheating scandal, it could not rule out the possibility of further KBA recall orders. German prosecutors in September fined Daimler almost $1 billion for using illegal diesel manipulation techniques. +++ 

+++ Electric MINI models will be built at a new plant in China through a joint venture between the BMW Group and Great Wall Motor, but BMW has pledged Oxford will remain “the heart and home” of the brand’s production operation. The German company and Chinese firm Great Wall have launched a new joint venture, Spotlight Automotive, to build and run the €650 million factory in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province. Due to open in 2022, it will employ 3.000 staff and have a capacity of up to 160.000 vehicles per year. BMW says it will be used for “production of future electric Mini vehicles”, along with several Great Wall models, but hasn’t offered specifics of the models that will be built there. The Mini Electric, due on sale early next year, will be built at Plant Oxford, and BMW said that site “will remain the heart and home of Mini manufacturing, while the Spotlight Automotive joint venture will provide additional capacity and flexibility”. While it’s likely that the new plant will focus primarily on producing Mini models for the Chinese market, likely including the Electric, it’s also set to build some that will be sold worldwide. Nicholas Peter, BMW’s finance boss, said: “This joint venture will enable us to produce a larger number of Mini-brand fully electric vehicles at attractive conditions for the world market. This is also an important strategic step for the Mini brand. The joint venture with Great Wall underlines the enormous importance of the Chinese market for us”. The BMW Group is committed to its existing sales structure in China and will continue its BMW Brilliance joint venture. It added the new joint venture could “accelerate development of the Mini brand significantly”. Autointernationaal.nl has previously reported that the Mini Rocketman is set to be revived as a compact electric car in 2022, with production taking place at the Spotlight plant. +++ 

+++ NISSAN is investing 33 billion yen in its flagship auto plant in Tochigi Prefecture in a first rollout of a production system geared toward electric vehicles. Nissan executive vice president Hideyuki Sakamoto said that manufacturing methods must change because vehicles increasingly have both hybrid and electric engines and new parts for connectivity and artificial intelligence services. Sakamoto said the production changes, set to be completed next year, use robotics and sensors to decrease physical stress on assembly-line workers. They are tailored for a workforce increasingly manned by senior workers and women. Among the innovations for Nissan’s so-called “intelligent factory” is a powertrain mounting system that allows at least 27 configurations to be installed in one procedure. The parts, including the battery for electric vehicles, are put together on one “pallet”, or foundation unit, for easier installing into the vehicle. Another innovation involves programming a worker’s craftsmanship into robotics. The moves are so finely tuned in the automated sealing process that the delicate angles and touches of a human worker are duplicated. The advantage to such a system is that a robot’s work is consistent and tireless, maintaining the quality of craftsmanship, according to Nissan. “The competitiveness of an automaker lies in production, as well as design and technology development”, Sakamoto told reporters. Auto production methods have remained basically the same since the early 1900s. But vehicles are becoming more complex, as driver-support technology, hybrid systems and various kinds of batteries must be fitted in, depending on the vehicle, Sakamoto said. The production methods will be later rolled out in Nissan’s plants in Japan and elsewhere around the world but details are undecided. Yokohama-based Nissan is eager to relay a message of innovation as it battles a serious risk to its reputation amid plunging profits and sales. Nissan’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn is awaiting trial on various financial misconduct allegations. Nissan has acknowledged failings in its corporate governance. Its new chief executive is taking office next week. Ghosn’s successor Hiroto Saikawa also stepped down, acknowledging financial misconduct. All other major global automakers are working on smart, connected and electric vehicles. But Nissan has a head start in many of the innovations, especially electric vehicles, thanks largely to Ghosn. Ghosn says he is innocent and accuses others in Nissan of colluding to get rid of him to block a fuller integration with its alliance partner Renault. +++ 

+++ PSA said it is preparing to sell its 50 % stake in an 8-year-old joint venture with Chinese partner Chongqing Changan Automotive which has struggled with falling sales. The announcement in Paris came after Changan also signaled in regulatory filings earlier this month that it was seeking a buyer for its half of the Shenzhen-based venture known as Capsa, which builds cars under PSA’s premium DS brand. PSA’s move highlights how global car manufacturers are struggling in the world’s biggest auto market, where sales contracted last year for the first time since the 1990s. It also plans to cut jobs and drop 2 of the 4 assembly plants it shares in a larger join venture with China’s Dongfeng Group, which builds Peugeot and Citroen cars. A PSA spokesman said the French company still hoped to roll out DS cars in China and a “new strategic plan” would be presented in the coming weeks or months. The partners planned to continue building DS branded cars at the Shenzhen plant, a China based PSA spokesman said. PSA’s sale plan would be presented to French unions on Friday, a source familiar with the matter said. PSA’s sales in China fell in 2018 by 32 % to 262.583 vehicles, a long way off the 1 million-a-year target it had set itself a few years ago. Changan said it is seeking a floor price of 1.63 billion yuan ($232 million) for its stake in the joint venture. Chinese group Baoneng is on a list of possible buyers of French car maker PSA Group’s 50% stake in Shenzhen-based Capsa. PSA’s board will review the planned sale of Capsa on December 6, sources familiar with the situation said. +++ 

+++ RENAULT , Nissan and Mitsubishi plan to appoint a general secretary at the helm of their partnership to boost cooperation and reboot joint operations after the departure of former alliance supremo Carlos Ghosn. Renault is trying to repair relations with its Japanese partners after they were shaken by Ghosn’s arrest in Tokyo a year ago on financial misconduct charges, which the alliance’s founder denies. The scandal disrupted efforts to roll out industrial projects together and find cost savings (increasingly vital as global auto demand falters) as Renault and Nissan shook up their teams in an effort to stabilize their business. “This alliance executive will be key for coordinating and facilitating several major alliance projects that are to be launched to accelerate business efficiencies for the respective companies”, the groups said in a joint statement. A source close to Renault said the future general secretary had already been recruited, describing him as francophone, but declined to give more details. The new head of the three-pronged partnership will report to the Alliance Operating Board and the group CEOs in a departure from the structure in which Ghosn was an all-powerful figure. Set up in April, the new Alliance Operating Board is a key element of a revamped corporate governance structure set in motion by Renault and alliance president Jean-Dominique Senard, who arrived at the French carmaker in January. The Alliance Operating Board alternates its monthly meetings between France and Japan. A source at Renault said that a future common platform for electric vehicles will be one of the alliance board’s key targets. Renault is also looking for a new chief executive. Financial chief Clotilde Delbos has taken on the job on an interim basis. +++ 

+++ RUSSIA ’s government plans to spend around 5 billion rubles ($78.3 million) next year on new auto loan subsidies to support stagnating car sales, Russian news agencies reported. New-car sales in Russia are expected to fall 2.2 % this year to 1.76 million units, according to the Association of European Businesses lobby group, amid sluggish economic growth and falling disposable incomes. Russia has been supporting demand for new cars through various programs in recent years, which include compensating banks for lowering interest rates on auto loans. Denis Manturov, the Industries and Trade Minister, said Russia still owed the banks under earlier lending support programs, but gave no details, RIA and TASS reported. Russian sales fell 5.2 % in October to 152.057 cars and were down 2.4 % to 1.42 million units in the first 10 months. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Group is struggling with an unwanted connection to Germany’s far-right AfD party, which is holding its national convention at a hall that bears the automaker’s name this weekend. The company has urged the arena’s operator to cover its logo during the anti-immigrant group’s meeting at the Volkswagen Halle in Brunswick (Braunschweig), near Wolfsburg where VW is based. But key figures, including senior executives, are now discussing if the effort is in keeping with the code of conduct adopted in the wake of the diesel-emissions scandal to encourage more open discussions, according to people familiar with the matter. VW has called on its workers to “resist the lure of populism”, and legal affairs chief Hiltrud Werner described the AfD’s growing support as an “increasing problem” in eastern Germany, where it recorded strong gains in state elections this fall. However, some officials argue that freedom of speech must be protected, and the AfD’s controversial positions can’t just be ignored, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the talks are not public. VW declined to comment. The internal controversy highlights a broader challenge for multinational corporations over how to deal with populists. The groups often push for protectionist policies and take rigid approaches on migration, while large manufacturers rely on global trade and diverse workforces. Volkswagen employs 650,000 people in 122 factories across the globe. Because of a corporate history rooted in its founding in 1937 by the Nazis to develop a “Volkswagen” (or people’s car), the company is particularly exposed. The following year, Adolf Hitler held a speech in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 people during a ceremony to mark the start of construction of VW’s main factory and the adjacent town that was renamed Wolfsburg after World War II. VW, which is partly owned by the state of Lower Saxony, has made considerable efforts to document its history, which included using forced labor. The dark chapter of its early days remains a highly sensitive issue at a company where labor representatives have considerable influence on strategic decisions. The Nazis had seized union funds to help finance building the huge Wolfsburg factory. VW leaders have taken a clear stance to safeguard diversity when right-wing protests triggered violence last year in Chemnitz, an eastern German city where the company operates an engine factory. Ahead of European elections in May, VW launched a campaign to highlight the importance of EU stability, adopting positions that contrast with AfD’s efforts to abandon the euro and dilute Brussels’ influence on German politics. +++

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